vacation

I’m a creature of habit

This time last year, I was getting ready for a hybrid work-pleasure trip to France for my 3rd 30th bday. Today, I’m sitting at my desk, watching my inbox fill-up with reminders of my impending trip to France that begins tomorrow.

  • 4 days in Toulouse (pleasure – sight-seeing à la touriste)
  • 4 days in Paris (work)
  • 2.5 days in Nîmes (pleasure – a mini dance festival)

I’m really digging work’s habit of sending me to France around my bday. This is a habit I am embracing wholeheartedly – may it continue for as long as I turn 30.

Like last year, I intend on cramming all of my clothes into 2 carry-on bags, to facilitate flopping about cities. Like every trip ever, my plane is leaving in 24 hours and I haven’t started packing. I haven’t even done laundry. I’ve no idea what to bring, the weather, anything. Will I rush home after work, and get cracking? Nah. Dance class, y’all. No way I am skipping my weekly 4-5 hour dose of kizomba. #priorities Will I have an exhausted meltdown tonight, as I try finish packing at 1 or 2am? You know it. #thepoweroftradition

Still…

I’m hyper. What else is new?

My facial expressions are not correlated to my happiness levels

Finally! The official photographer from the Dubai festival uploaded his pics onto Fbk yesterday! It turns out that I look like a prissy know-it-all when I dance. Yippee. This pic however, I enjoy. You can see traces of the prissiness, but really that’s just my look of intense concentration/mild panic, mixed with enjoyment and satisfaction.

photo cred: Farantini, the amazing photographer of all kizomba events @http://www.farantini.com/

When I first danced with that guy on Day 1 of the festival – hands down, one of my favorite leads ever! He can make me DO things!! – he surprised me by pulling that move. I didn’t expect it, the sudden falling forward, so maybe definitely I screeched. Loudly – I don’t have an indoor voice even when I try. Classic dance styling option: startle your partner into almost dropping you. Imma trademark that, stat.

Notice how my mouth is closed this time? That’s what 4 days of non-stop dancing will produce: no more hearing-loss for my dance partners.


Cue many minutes of total non-productivity, as I perused through all those pics, bringing back small moments I’d already forgotten.

It’s the “bringing back” part that I struggle with. When I first got back to Montreal, I didn’t want to let go of the intense happiness I’d felt in Dubai. I made the mistake of assuming everything I associated with this trip – including the friendships and all emotions – must be in the past, distinct from my present. And that is true, kinda.

This Dubai trip proved to me that I have the capacity to feel happiness, and the capacity to dream. I created deep bonds with friends, both new and old; these friendships changed me, as all love and shared experiences must. Therefore, who I am today, post-trip, is different than who I was pre-trip, because of the people that I met in Dubai. My anxiety lied to me last week: it is false to assume that all these lovely people are continuing to live their lives, without me, and I without them. We all bear the marks of each others’ influence, stemming from those moments of intersection. That eternal connectivity is just as true as the physical truth that we all apart now, sprinkled across the world.

If I can feel that grateful and connected to the people I spent 4-8 days with, perhaps, maybe, I should refocus my gratitude on those that I share my daily life with? There are so many opportunities for happiness in my Montreal life, that I frequently don’t notice, distracted by the noise that is adulting. Like my Baba taught me: “give us this day our daily bread”. That means my happiness is not stuck in the past, nor is it tied to the outcome of goals set in the future. Happiness is felt in the now, if I will but let myself be open to it. It can be found in my #dreamteam that smiles when they see me, and care and worry about me as much as I try mentor them. In the zany disorganization of Teacher’s dance classes. In the grey weather that is starting to show green tinges of summer. In a good workout with Coach and my gym crew. In my favorite ice cream parlor opening on Sunday for the spring-summer season. In a Friday-night supper with my friend & her fam that I haven’t seen in a few months. In the satisfaction of knowing that I did a good day’s work, boring accountant-style.

Dubai taught me I can be happier than I ever thought possible.

Montreal will teach me to enjoy every day that I build a life of happiness for myself.

Them happiness goals tho!

#beherenow

Dancefloor drama

Day 2 (Thursday) of the kizomba festival.

I danced with FroMan for 4-5 consecutive songs. He gave me a lot of (kind) constructive criticism. Every second step warranted feedback. Then every step. Then my basic posture. I was basically receiving a private lesson from a talented patient instructor, this was great! It did not feel great. It felt like I was a shit dancer wasting his time at a party. These negative thoughts distracted me from actually following his lead, such that I flubbed up the most basic moves. At the end of dance FroMan checked if I was ok. I thanked him, apologized for my anxious brain, told him I was grateful. Social disaster avoided.

Next, Energizer asked me to dance. I gratefully accepted – Energizer is an endless bundle of happy energy, always smiling and laughing. The first 30 seconds went well. Then, he made a comment about an issue that FroMan had worked so hard to correct. More dancing. Another comment. Dancing, comments, dancing, comments, dancing, comments. I was horrified: all these months, I’ve been a shitty follower, making the lives of my partners miserable, why has nobody ever said anything, how embarrassing, this is awful, I just want to take a nap. Interspersed with his comments were short intervals of actual dancing, where Energizer would laugh. The first time, I ignored him. The second time, I was hurt – what are you doing laughing at me, bro?! The third time, I lost my temper and walked off the dance floor.

I flounced to a nearby chair, fighting back tears of misery. Energizer appeared in front of me.

WTH Vanilla. In ALL my years as a professional dancer, NO ONE has EVER walked away from me mid-song. I was having fun! WHY would you do that? Because I LAUGHED? Vanilla, I laugh when I am having FUN. NOBODY has ever stranded me on the dance floor before because I laugh. I wasn’t laughing at you, why would you think that?

Teachable moment: when overwhelmed, do NOT ditch an internationally acclaimed artist on the dance floor. Don’t do it. It won’t go down well.

I apologized profusely, ashamed at my lapse in manners. Energizer calmed down, seeing that I was very remorseful. He gave me a drink. FroMan walked by and laughed – explaining how he’d unintentionally contributed to my high-strung state. Energizer was still jokingly berating me when a non-artist asked me to dance. Eager to escape this self-imposed drama, I accepted. Mid-way through the song, my partner told me, “I really enjoy dancing with you. Would you mind if I gave you some feedback?” 

OKAY UNIVERSE. I GET IT. I need feedback. Can you quit beating me over the head with a sledgehammer?!?!

Day 3 (Friday) of the kizomba festival

Energizer spent the day teasing me. I apologized 200 times. Energizer’s dance partner, Sunshiney, laughed till she cried when she heard the story, imagining how pissed he must have been. She high-fived me, something Energizer ignored with dignity.

At the party that night, every time Energizer changed partners, he’d manoeuvre her so as to dance by me, no matter where I was in the room. As he’d twirl her past me, he would smirk, “Notice Vanilla how SHE isn’t walking away from me, leaving me stranded on the dance floor? SOME girls enjoy dancing with me, you see.”

Every. Single. Girl.

Day 4 (Saturday) of the kizomba festival

Different venue, with weaker air conditioning. I was taking a break to cool off, when one of the instructors asked me to dance. I warned him that I was mildly overheated. He didn’t care. Off we went.

Some dancers make me nervous. I get intimidated, the hamster reel in my head goes haywire, it happens. This guy was one of them. When I’m stressed, I get sweaty – biology 101. Half-way through our 2nd song, a drop of sweat fell from my hair straight down onto his arm on my back. He pulled back to look at me,

You weren’t joking when you said you were hot. You will make ME hot. You will make me SWEATY. Girl, you can’t be doing that, I’ve a plane to catch.

And he walked off the dance floor.

It took me a few minutes to track down Energizer, to share this story. He gleefully laughed AT me, told me we were finally even, and danced with me.

#howtomakefriends101

#myinternationalreputation


Recap of this trip so far:

Where I test out this whole ‘solocation vs social anxiety’ concept

Day 1 (Wednesday) of the kizomba festival. I was prepared. There weren’t that many people – more of a warmup for the weekend parties (weekends in Dubai are Friday/Saturday; Thursday = our TGIF). Perfect: less reason to feel nervous. Workshops went alright. But then the open freestyle dance party started. I danced with 2-3 guys that I had trouble following, and my confidence wavered. After a dance where I couldn’t execute a basic cha-cha – my partner walked me through the move like I was a beginner – I questioned my presence at the event. More people arrived. They danced well. I missed Teacher, and his familiar brand of crazy. Nobody here was crazy. They were good, I was bad, I didn’t belong, I shouldn’t have come. Cue a full-blown anxiety attack. I disappeared to my hotel room, and cried/did breathing exercises for 30 mins. I considered calling it a night and going to bed. Then I imagined Teacher finding out – he would not be impressed if I quit. So back to the party I went.

Y’all.

I had so much fun. Unbeknownst to me, several of the artists crashed the party – suddenly I wasn’t struggling to follow as much. I found a few non-artist guys with whom I clicked. I was dancing. And then… the DJ put on afrohouse and one of the artists lead the crowd in one big group dance. I was in my element. As is wont to happen, mid-way through the song the artist wanted someone else to lead the crowd. He looked around, and pulled/pushed whiter-than-white Vanilla to the front. I lead the room for 10-15 seconds, before giving my spot to another instructor! I improvised Afrohouse! ME! And I did good: when I busted out one of my favorite moves (“pengua”) the artist ran up to me, gave me a high five and followed my steps. That was one of the coolest/scariest things I’ve ever done.

The party ended at 3am. An instructor, upon learning that I was staying at the hotel alone, voluntold me to host the afterparty. Just like that, I found myself with 15 strangers in my room, dancing, drinking and chatting until 8am. For someone who was scared of being alone at this festival, I sure seemed to be doing a good job meeting people.#socialanxietywin

After catching a few hours sleep, I messaged FroMan, an instructor; during the afterparty, my gut had decided this is someone I’ll be friends with, and luckily for me, he seemed quite ok with that decision. Easy-peasy: Day 2 afternoon spent with Froman and 2 other instructors, Energizer and Sunshiney, laughing/chilling/relaxing in the hotel pool, the sauna & steam room. (Incidentally, saunas are my favorite weight loss tool when travelling: I swear, I sweated out 75% of all my bloat caused by excessive eating on this trip. I felt SO much more comfortable in my body after that!) When it was time for us to go back to our hotel rooms to prep for the evening workshops and dance party, we opted for the lazy option of staying in our bathing suits, with the beach towels wrapped around us for modesty. #whatcouldpossiblygowrongintheshortdistancefrompooltoroom

My room key did not work.

Nothing is pleasanter than going down to a crowded hotel lobby, in one’s bikini and a beach towel, sweaty hair plastered to one’s head, face neon pink from the sauna. In Dubai.  As I stood waiting in line for the front desk, the festival’s organizer noticed me, and dragged me to meet a bunch of 8-10 artists, recently arrived, “Hi guys! Meet Vanilla! She is Teacher’s student, and as you know, he isn’t coming, so she doesn’t know anyone here.” And like a butterfly, she fluttered away, leaving me to face them alone. There they were. Exhausted, jet-lagged, annoyed at having to wait for their hotel rooms. Also, beautiful, stylish, and y’know, clothed. There I was, a wet, red tomato wrapped in a towel. Did I make things better, with smooth small talk and witty banter? No. 100% of the noises coming out of my mouth were incoherent babble. #FML The hotel re-magnetized my key. I went back to my room. My key still didn’t work. Back down to the lobby I went (ignoring the amused glances of those artists). This time the hotel sent an employee with me to assist me. Turns out… I wasn’t turning the handle the entire way, which is why my door wouldn’t open. The hotel staff was very understanding. It took me an hour to stop blushing from mortification.

#socialanxietyrollercoaster

#andthatwasonlythebeginning


Recap of this trip so far:

I didn’t know vacations could make me so happy

It’s 3am on Monday morning. I’m sitting in the Dubai DXB airport, waiting to board the first of my 3 flights & 24 hour journey back to Montréal. I’m running on 14 hours sleep over the last 4 days – the dance festival kept me busy, too busy to sleep or write! 

It’s gonna take me several posts to catch up on all the stories, revelations and feelings that this Dubai trip generated. Right now, I’m bursting with gratitude. I didn’t expect this trip to be overflowing with love. Yet, everywhere, from random restaurants, to Bossman and IronSweetie or strangers at the dance festival that have secured spots as friends for life… everywhere I saw moments of love and opportunities for happiness.

6 months ago was the first time I considered my right to aim for happiness. This trip proves to me that happiness is no longer a wobbly concept. I like being happy. 

The goal of this trip was to avoid the imminent burnout, and recharge my batteries. Without doubt, objective achieved, and surpassed: I achieved joy this past week. 

I hope I sleep on the plane.

First time on a beach

I spent the day on a beach. Kite beach, one of the world’s longest stretches of white-sand beaches.

No, I did not have to cover up or be veiled. I did not see a single burkini, much to my inner-fashionista’s relief. Veiled women lazed around, as did non veiled women – funny how opting to be veiled, or not, does not decrease one’s appreciation for the sea, waves, sand and relaxation. #debunkingignorance I did see and hear one of the most diverse crowds I’ve ever been immersed in. French, English, American, Russian, Ukrainian, Spanish, Indian and of course Arabic.

By putting on SPF 100 sunscreen 5 times in 6 hours, I mostly avoided burns. Not a lobster.

I spent the day alone on the beach, as Dynamo’s brother, Bossman, and Bossman’s wife IronSweetie (more on them in a later post) had to work. IronSweetie was worried I’d be bored or lonely, and reassured me that people were very friendly on the beach, I shouldn’t be shy to go say hi. My social skills remain legendary, apparently… I promised her I’d be ok. And I was. I didn’t talk to many people, other than to ask for help applying sunscreen on my back. I too busy enjoying the forced alone time – no data, wifi wasn’t working… 6 hours disconnected from the world. I swam for an hour, I walked the entire length of the beach, admiring the male joggers (#eyecandy), I read my book, I dozed. It was exactly the kind of solocation I needed.

Bonus realization: my usual body hangups didn’t make an appearance. Yes, I was bloated, PMSing, had spent the last 3 days eating all the food (Arab hospitality dictates that one must try kill one’s guests through constant peer-pressured eating and unnatural portion sizes). I hadn’t exercised in 10 days (#Parisandalltheprofiteroles). My body was not beach-ready… and I didn’t care. Why bother concerning myself with cellulite and a puffy tummy when there was the hypnotizing sound of waves and children laughing surrounding me.

I think, I hope, I am on the path to self-acceptance. And a tan. Please God, I need a tan.


Meanwhile, in Canada… Montreal’s been afflicted with one of the worst snowstorms in years. 35+ cm. Today‘s snow day was announced yesterday, because yesterday’s evening traffic was so bad (50 minute commutes taking 3.5 to 5 hours long!) that regardless of whether or not the snow removal companies worked the night through, it would be impossible to clear the snow, never mind the continued snow accumulation. However, since this is Montreal… I’d say there is 50% chance my street won’t be cleared by the time I get back Monday night.

What better time to change my Facebook profile pic to me standing in the sand?

Dubai? Why?!

I’m writing this on my flight to Dubai. (Side note: I’M SO EXCITED I AM GOING TO DUBAI!) I’m happy, without a doubt. But I’m also aware of a tangle of emotions.

Sample reactions to my destination choice for my vacation:

  • Will you have to wear a hijab? Are you comfortable being veiled?
  • Why go to a place where you can’t drink?
  • Aren’t you gonna starve? What will you eat if it is all whatsitcalledagain… Halal food?
  • Who wants to bet Vanilla won’t come back, bc they’ll stone her to death over one of her crazier stories?
  • Oh you DO know ppl over there. Good. They’ll tell you what you can/cannot do, to avoid you getting arrested. Reaaaaaaally. They’re Syrian? How unusual. How…?
  • Dubai? Neat! I went there with my girlfriend last year, and we had a blast. It’s completely different. Beautiful. Make sure you visit the souks – though it’d be best if you had a local show you around those. You do? An Arab! Even better, you’ll avoid language barriers- our friend was a French expat. And the food! You’ll love it. What area will you be staying in? You should definitely do xyz. Btw, the sun is really strong. They have sunscreen dispensers on the beach, kinda like vending machines, it’s funny. Still, consider covering up when around town, otherwise you’ll be reapplying sunscreen all day, and even then, you’ll probably burn like we did.

That last comment was made by a (white male) French coworker. Notice how he assumes I am capable of regulating my behaviour to avoid putting myself in danger and MORE IMPORTANTLY to avoid offending the ppl living in the country I am travelling to (#manners101). He doesn’t find it weird that I have Arab friends. Not a single misplaced, ignorant comment about Muslims’ attitudes towards women.

In case y’all are wondering: halal food can be delicious or not, depending on the cook – just like non-halal food. Dubai has the world’s highest % of expats: the city is tolerant towards all cultures and behaviours. Alcohol is permitted, as long as the restaurant/hotel is licensed- not all restaurants are, depending on their target market. No limitations on women’s dress, though obviously, immodest/vulgar dress is frowned upon. Which really is no loss for humanity – we all benefit when ppl exhibit style and good taste. Covering up is a good idea, not because they hate women, but because of practical considerations like avoiding skin cancer and preventing heat stroke.

Funny story. Yesterday I walked from the Louvre up to Sacré-Cœur after work. I was wearing high heels (very comfortable booties – I walked for 1.5 hours on cobblestone streets with no problem, and would have continued walking if it hadn’t been for my starvation levels), opaque black tights, a short skirt, sensible spring coat and a big scarf. During my walk up and down la Bute, I discovered that Parisian women don’t wear mini-skirts. The women stared contemptuously at me, and the men undressed me with their eyes. I was seriously uncomfortable. It felt close to the discomfort levels I experienced in Beirut. But experiencing that in Beirut is reasonable bc #Arab and #Muslim and #totalmisogynyobvi. Paris, however is the ville de l’amour, lieu de naissance de la démocratie, right? #jesuisCharlie, and all that. Yet Paris is the only city where I’ve been manhandled by a guy against my will. Could it be that #totalmisogynyobvi is not something that should be exclusively associated with Arabs and Muslims?! Gasp! White men do that too??!?!?! Say it isn’t so!!!!

If the Dynamo trip to Beirut last year taught me anything, it’s that friendship and happiness transcend nationality and religion. I’m so excited to see Dynamo’s bro (BossMan) & his wife (IronSweetie). “Vanilla, of COURSE you will stay with us, you are family. Don’t insult us by staying anywhere else.” Yes, how unusual that I’d be friends with people so loving and kind when they don’t share my faith or my birth country! What am I thinking? Oh right. I’m thinking they’ll prevent me from being arrested or stoned to death. #usefulfriendsonly

#ignorancedrivesmenuts